‘The Blue Lenses’, by Daphne du Maurier

A decade ago  I compiled an anthology of Daphne du Maurier’s menacing short stories for the Folio Society, with an introduction by Patrick McGrath (this has since been republished by NYRB Classics). ‘Don’t Look Now’ and ‘The Birds’ are probably the best known, but to me ‘The Blue Lenses’ is the most sinister. A woman, Marda West (even her name is weirdly off-key), undergoes a serious eye operation. Weeks later, and once the bandages have been removed, with replacement lenses implanted, she perceives that the heads of her fellow humans have been gruesomely replaced with those of animals, the worst saved for those closest to her: her surgeon, her personal nurse and her husband. In 2015, like Marda in the story, I began a series of sight-saving operations. I’d completely forgotten about ‘The Blue Lenses’ till the morning of the first procedure, when it inconveniently came back to me in all its full horror. Du Maurier’s cleverness at building suspense into the everyday, using, as Patrick McGrath describes, a ‘reverse anthropomorphism’ to emphasise the old adage of seeing people as they truly are, is told with quiet matter-of-factness which only increases the helplessness and fear of both Marda and the reader. I’ve omitted the brilliant final twist.

(From The Breaking Point and Other Stories, 1959. Available in Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, NYRB Classics, 2008, and The Breaking Point, Virago Modern Cassics, 2009)

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